APA Region II Update – Telling Our Story

Submitted by Ben Hitchings, FAICP, CZO, APA Director, Region II

There we were, looking out from the seventh floor of a parking deck in downtown Houston, trying to imagine what the historically African-American community of Freedmen’s Town once looked like. It was the end of February, and the APA Board and AICP Commission had just finished their Winter Retreat. Now we were learning the stories of people who had helped build this city. Fortunately, we had an amazing guide – Pricilla T Graham of Harriett’s History Box – who has made it her mission to make sure these stories are not forgotten. 

As we all work to understand what the new normal looks like in the wake of the pandemic, preserving and sharing these stories is more important than ever to inspire us and the communities we serve to continue our work of creating great communities for all.

APA is here to support you in this work, and thanks to the focus and direction provided by APA’s Strategic Plan, and lots of hard work by APA staff and volunteers, we will start to see a growing number of products that we can use in our communities.

The four goals of APA’s Strategic Plan include:

  • Prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Strengthening the voice of planning
  • Upskilling planners
  • Improving digital relevance

Here are the latest products in each of these categories.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The latest in APA’s longstanding series of policy guides is the recently released Equity in Zoning Policy Guide that includes a plethora of strategies on how to use the tool of zoning in a more equitable manner. Congratulations to the volunteers and staff who contributed to this document.

APA has also launched a major initiative to address sexual harassment, in consultation with the Women in Planning Division, the APA Board, and the AICP Commission. The first set of measures has been released in advance of the 2023 National Planning Conference in Philadelphia, and additional resources will be developed later in the year. To learn more, visit our website. I strongly encourage you to read and use the materials provided, and to sign the Pledge Against Sexual Harassment. Through our collective efforts, we can help make sure APA events and activities are safe and welcoming for all.

Finally, APA continues to add to the copious resources on EDI in its Knowledge Base on the topic. This is well worth a look if you haven’t seen it already.

Strengthening the Voice of Planning

In December, APA scored an important legislative victory as part of its work on Zoning Reform, helping to secure $85 million to fund new Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) grants. These will enable regional planning organizations and local governments to identify and remove barriers to housing production and preservation. While this initial funding is helpful, APA is pushing for more resources through its efforts to support the reintroduction of the Housing Supply and Affordability Act (HSAA) in the new Congress. If you haven’t signed up already as a member of APA’s Planner’s Advocacy Network to help advance this work, consider doing so.

APA’s work on zoning reform is getting a major boost through a new partnership between APA and the National League of Cities (NLC) to create a Housing Supply Accelerator, designed to advance and incentivize local approaches to housing development and preservation. This is a solutions-oriented campaign that will share best practices, model ordinances, and other actionable resources to help communities address their unique housing challenges.

Finally, we will also start to see more resources from APA’s research on how to strengthen the voice of planning. For example, APA’s Senior Public Affairs Manager, Emily Pasi, is leading two sessions at NPC23 titled “You’re the Messenger: Demonstrating Value to Elected Officials”, with much more to come.

Upskilling Planners

In January, APA released its 2023 Trend Report for Planners. This is an outstanding resource that scans 100 trends and provides insights on how planners and communities can learn, prepare, and act to address them. This is part of a larger effort by APA to help planners use the technique of Strategic Foresight to better understand and manage a rapidly changing world. The APA Research Department is continually developing new materials in this topic area, so check out these resources if you haven’t done so lately.

APA also continues to develop its Passport service, with extended access to videos, conference presentations, and webinars on a myriad of planning topics.

Finally, depending when this update hits your chapter newsletter, we may be still in the process of holding the National Planning Conference (NPC23), which for the second year in a row includes both in-person and virtual components. One of the things we learned as an organization during the pandemic was that holding both in-person and virtual conferences has enabled us to reach different audiences and more planners, providing a high-quality conference experience as well for those who are not able to travel or can’t afford the in-person event.

Improving Digital Relevance

Finally, APA is working to improve its digital support for members. The first step in this process is to upgrade its hardware and software to lay the technological foundation for future service improvements. This work is under construction, so stay tuned for future updates.

As Pricilla T Graham with Harriett’s History Box showed us in Houston, the story of Freedmen’s Town is one of struggle and perseverance, and thanks to organizations like the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy and the Freedmen’s Town Association, this community is receiving renewed interest and investment to help it preserve its history and tell its story. As many of us struggle with staffing shortages and a constellation of community challenges, APA is here to support you in your work. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’d like to talk more about the organization or the planning profession, and I hope to see each of you sometime soon at NPC or your chapter conference.